Wisdom of Nym: Final Fantasy XIV’s 2020 was better than expected, worse than planned

Bring the light

Here’s something interesting to consider in the abstract: Bereft of any further outside context and looked at purely from a content standpoint, Final Fantasy XIV actually had a totally normal year outside of a longer-than-usual patch cycle. We still got three patches of content this year, we got a regular amount of trials and MSQ content, and so on. Sure, that long patch cycle was something, but you could look at the year and think that it was just a pretty normal one.

Of course, to do that you’d have to forget the reality of 2020, something that I don’t think anyone is likely to do in the near future. (To put this in context, one of my stocking stuffers this year was a pair of facemasks.) And some losses were keenly felt, even as the game soldiered on well enough and delivered some absolutely masterful content along the way. So let’s look back over the past year and talk about what went right, what went wrong, and… what went wrong totally independent of anything the developers had planned.

Let’s lay our cards out on the table right away with regards to that latter category: It really, really sucks that we haven’t had a fan festival at all and thus know nothing about the next expansion. It’s unpleasant and feels very weird, a break of structure that’s all the more notable as we move into next year. Yes, we know it’s happening (Yoshida literally mentioned it back in July), but we know nothing about it and so we have nothing yet to build our hype cycle up about unlike in a normal year.

This has led to a certain profound sadness in the community. Not in the sense that there should have been a fan festival, of course; that would’ve been a horrible idea and cancelling them was the right call. Heck, moving things digitally was probably the right call as well, even if it does seem to be hitting a bit late. But the community as a whole can feel that empty space that isn’t filled yet, and it leaves us unsure about when we’ll learn the things we all know we’ll need to find out about in 2021.

Is this their fault? Of course not. It just sucks.

Working from not-home.

Beyond that, though, the year has seen one notable decrease with the lack of hard mode dungeons (we normally would have had one in 5.2 and 5.4), replaced with… well, stuff, but not really stuff that makes up for that. If the shift in time has produced Bozja and the Varis trial? I’m sorry, but I’d much rather have hard modes back. Unless the new Bozja content in 5.45 is unspeakably amazing, that’s unlikely to change.

Indeed, Bozja in general has suffered from a need to not be Eureka so firmly that it feels ancillary to its own main reason for being. It’s not just secondary to upgrading your weapons but actively slower than the alternative, which feels like a missed beat somewhere. The fun to be had there is pretty limited, and now I’m hearing tell that the content is a ghost town… and it lacks anything to make it easier to clear through now, which means some people who missed out are going to probably have a hard time catching back up at this point.

The other big “new” content was Ishgardian Restoration, which generally seems to have gone better… except for the far-too-short ranking period. Instead of ranking mostly coinciding with completing the restoration, ranking is over quickly and the actual restoration drags on, and the last phase was largely bereft of big rewards since players could easily just buy in with stockpiled pieces. I’m hoping lessons have been learned for the third and final phase. It’s good, but not perfected yet.

And, you know, we’ve had the usual people decrying the game as putting out nothing but the same content in the same year when we’ve had these new experiments moving forward, more Blue Mage content, and so on. There’s been some crying from the usual corners about tuning and balance. Things have not been perfect this year, although it’s telling that this community is still one that sees something like Untextured Rock and says “yes, let’s make this a new ersatz mascot for the community for some reason.”

I love this game.

I like the way you move.

So if all those are the negatives, are there positives? Oh, heck yes. The storytelling has remained at the high level seen in the expansion, for starters, and while there have been beats that haven’t worked as well for me (just like others haven’t worked as well for other people) it’s been an absolute onslaught of big story beats. 5.3 was as excellent a conclusion as anyone could ask for, with the villain’s final words being perfectly heartbreaking.

The three new dungeons we have gotten? Fun, clean, and offering some nifty mechanics or references back to old mechanics we haven’t seen in a long while. Both of the Eden sets that we got had interesting bosses and fun fights; the same is true of Puppet’s Bunker. Indeed, that alone deserves a nod for pushing some novel ideas for storytelling and giving the team a chance to tell different sorts of stories. Again, for some people these may not work, but you can’t accuse it of being predictable or playing it safe.

For that matter, even the negatives don’t bother me all that much. If you’re going to ask for the game to experiment with new sorts of content or push outside of its comfort zone, you can’t in turn get annoyed when some of those experiments still don’t entirely work or might have some odd kinks to work out. You can’t be happy for different sorts of stories while decrying ones that don’t work, you can’t be critical of Eureka while also being critical of avoiding its missteps, and so forth.

It has, on a whole, been a pretty good year for the game in terms of raw content and on balance. It hasn’t been flawless by any stretch of the imagination, and there are mistakes along the way, some content that perhaps could have used more time in the oven or bits of balance that weren’t ideal. I’m still bothered by how melee-unfriendly a lot of fights have been recently coinciding with a shift in DPS focus between casters and melee. (It used to be casters were much better in AoE but weaker on single-target, but this expansion has really been all about Black Mages in terms of raw output…)

But all of those are quibbles. At the end of the day, this was a difficult year, and FFXIV navigated it with aplomb and with good content delivery. Not every new thing it tried was a perfect hit right out of the park, but it certainly tried a lot of new things, and that ameliorates a lot of the shortfalls.

Feedback is welcome in the comments or by mail to eliot@massivelyop.com, like always. Next week, I want to look forward into 2021 a bit in both predictions and when I think major stuff is going to happen.

The Nymian civilization hosted an immense amount of knowledge and learning, but so much of it has been lost to the people of Eorzea. That doesn’t stop Eliot Lefebvre from scrutinizing Final Fantasy XIV each week in Wisdom of Nym, hosting guides, discussion, and opinions without so much as a trace of rancor.
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